Dirt Dauber Reviewed

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dirt Dauber (trailer available here) is a short film directed by Steve Daniels. The approximately half hour production lets viewers eavesdrop on a creepy conversation between a strange, crude driver and his exponentially weirder passenger. Visceral imagery centering around a fish hatchery, an old railway tunnel, and a backwoods drive promotes a Lovecraftian atmosphere that fully materializes when the film focuses on a Thing With a Thousand Young--an obvious reference to Lovecraft's Shub-Niggurath.

Although Cthulhu Mythos entities have appeared before on film in myriad shapes, Daniels' interpretation of HPL's cosmic fertility horror is refreshingly new. The director wisely shies away from explicit appearances by the chief monster itself in favor of cultivating an overarching atmosphere of weird horror. Further, the revelation of Dirt Dauber's main mystery at the end is far more unsettling than any CGI generated depiction of Shub-Niggurath could be. With that said, it should be noted that monsters do appear in several forms. The passenger's murky origins are quite monstrous from the movie's outset, long before Daniels resolves the mystery of his existence. Meanwhile, the driver's macabre worldview presents him as a dark creature in his own right, a boisterous horror who haunts the fish hatchery universe he relates in dialogue throughout the film.

Vicious little anecdotes dropped throughout the story aid Daniels and company in sketching a thoroughly eerie picture. A conspiracy theory in which the Titanic is brought down by an otherworldly leviathan is a fitting binder for a short that spotlights horrors on the surface, below the sea, and beyond the stars. This also allows Daniels some cinematic liberty later in the narrative, when "Nearer My God to Thee"--the very song the Titanic's band allegedly played--blasts in the background as the two men approach a network of caves, a brooding funeral march to mystery and personal undoing. Images and verbal descriptions of bloody fish processing repeatedly rise in Dirt Dauber. However, an otherwise gory enterprise is brilliantly held up as a mirror for both humanity and Shub-Niggurath, from the meekness of hatchery raised fish to their mindless spawning and splashing.

With most horror films of any sub-genre these days, it is cinematic technique as well as story that brands a movie with a truly unique identity. Luckily, Dirt Dauber does not disappoint at all on this account. Despite its short length, the film effectively balances the use of color, black and white scenery, and animation for a stimulating visual ride. A notable sequence using papery looking puppets is introduced to illustrate a story told by the driver. These models spring to life from simple looking construction, a visual treat showing the grisly circumstances surrounding a work crew assigned with tunneling through the mountains long ago.

Black and white is the lens of choice for most of Dirt Dauber. It provides just the right kind of creepiness for most of the film's length. The shift to color, when the pair enter the climactic and cavernous railway tunnel, is equally well received. Rather than ruining the mystery and slightly archaic cinematic feel of earlier scenes, the splash of color is balanced by the blackness of the cavern, giving the final scenes a dreamlike vividness.

With Dirt Dauber following his previous Lovecraftian production, The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley, there can be little doubt that Steve Daniels is one of the most promising new directors of weird horror. His latest offering is a potently brewed cup of chilling strangeness that should immediately secure its place as one of the best made and most original Lovecraftian shorts of this decade. Luckily, the picture is a hopeful sign for further dark productions by Daniels. Yet, there is perhaps one bittersweet caution: both Dirt Dauber and Howard Ghormely establish a high standard for both further shorts and the new challenge of a full length feature from the mind of Daniels.

-Grim Blogger

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